- Main nerve from gut found to send signals to the brain that effect behaviour
- When vagus nerve is cut wariness and fear are reduced
- Relearning a new response to a stimulus also becomes slower
The old adage that you should always ‘trust your gut’ has some weight, new research reveals. We often ‘feel’ threatening situations in our stomachs and, while the brain has long been viewed as the centre of all emotions, researchers have found that cutting off the signals from the stomach to the brain – or ignoring a ‘gut feeling’- makes us less wary and less receptive to danger.
So ignoring your gut instinct could mean you overlook signs of approaching danger – whether physical or emotional.
It seems ‘trusting your gut instinct’ isn’t just an old wives saying
By studying rats, researchers have been able to prove for the first time that our ‘gut instinct’ plays a part in warning us of impending threat.
Researchers at ETH Zurich found that if the main nerve that transmits signals from the stomach to the brain – the vagus nerve – was severed, the rats became far less wary.
‘The innate response to fear appears to be influenced significantly by signals sent from the stomach to the brain,’ says lead researcher Urs Meyer.
They also took longer to associate a stimulus with a new response once one had already been learned, suggesting that ignoring your gut instinct could lead you to repeat mistakes.
The vagus nerve sends signals from the gut to the brain that help determine emotions and behaviors
Meyer says: ‘We were able to show for the first time that the selective interruption of the signal path from the stomach to the brain changed complex behavioural patterns. This has traditionally been attributed to the brain alone.’
The study shows clearly that the stomach also has a say in how we respond to fear; however, what it says, i.e. precisely what it signals, is not yet clear.
The researchers hope, however, that they will be able to further clarify the role of the vagus nerve and the dialogue between brain and body in future studies.